There has been a large spotlight on the gender pay gap topic recently and making any positive change on the issue has proven difficult.
The research report, Gender Equity Insights 2016: Inside Australia’s Gender Pay Gap, identifies the pay gap remains at all levels of employment with the average top-tier female manager earning almost 29% lower than their male counterparts. This equates to a difference of $100,000 in earnings per year.
There are a number of reasons for why the gap exists including the undervaluation of skills in female dominated areas of work and social conditioning.
The majority of organisational structures are also too inflexible towards employees that have familial or carer responsibilities which is often the case for women in top-tier positions.
The contemporary provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) can protect working women from any adverse action being taken against them on the basis of their gender.
However, many women are unaware of these rights and how these laws can apply to them.
What can be done to tackle gender discrimination in the workforce?
There are a number of ways in which the problem can be combated in the workforce such as the following:
- Ensure that women are given access to higher paid positions based upon their skill and qualifications. Too often, women are overlooked for managerial positions with more responsibility for no other reason but their gender.
- Encourage the entry of more women in workplaces that conventionally employ more males such as in engineering and IT.
- Eliminate gender stereotypes from early years to ensure that young women are not dissuaded from applying for courses that would lead to traditionally male dominated industries.
What to do if you are discriminated against for being a woman?
In the event that an employer takes adverse action against an employee by virtue of him/her exercising a workplace right such as the right to receive the same pay as their male counterpart, a claim may be available for the employee to make under the Fair Work Act 2009.
General Protections provisions under the Fair Work Act protect women from being discriminated against or rendered of their duties as a result of their gender.
The onus will then be on the employer, to satisfy a court that the employee’s gender right was not a reason for the adverse action.
This is traditionally quite a difficult onus for an employer to discharge as gender need not be the only reason for the adverse action, but one of the reasons in the decision maker’s mind when the adverse action was taken.
Complaints of the breach of the Fair Work Act can be brought to the Fair Work Commission for investigation and breaches of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 can be made to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
What Australian laws protect your rights as a woman in the workplace?
There are Australian laws that dictate gender discrimination and should always be referred to when employees find themselves in difficult situations.
The Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 was introduced to promote and improve gender equality in pay and employment opportunities in Australian workplaces.
The objectives of the act are to also support employers in removing barriers to the full and equal participation of women in the workplace, eliminating the discrimination on the basis of gender in the workplace and also fostering consultation between employers and employees about discrimination on the basis of gender in the workplace.
The purpose of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 is to educate and draw attention to gender discrimination issues in the workplace. Non-compliant organisations risk being named in Parliament and will be open to public scrutiny. The Act also requires private companies with more than 100 employees to provide public reports to the Workplace Gender Equality agency on a yearly basis. The report must provide information on gender equality indicators such as remuneration, gender composition, availability of flexible workplace arrangements and more.
If you are a working woman who is being discriminated against because of your gender, we recommend seeking legal advice.
About the Author
Francessca Lee is a solicitor with McDonald Murholme Employment Lawyers in Melbourne, Australia.